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Teacher’s Naked Cyber Chat Exposed

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this story, so let’s just jump into it both feet first.

  1. School district’s laptop is stolen from the library.
  2. Student at school obtains laptop (but denies stealing it).
  3. Student sells laptop to unsuspecting widowed substitute teacher.
  4. Teacher uses laptop to carry out explicit video chats with a long distance boyfriend.

Now this is where the story gets interesting…

The school district contracted with a security company (Absolute Software) that had installed software on the computer so it could be tracked.  In addition, the software allowed a remote user to tap into the computer and see what was being done on it.  After being alerted to the stolen laptop, the security company tracks the laptop taps into the laptop and memorializes the explicit video chats.  Not content to do their job, the security company (Absolute) goes a step further.

As stated on msnbc.com:

This allowed Absolute and the employee assigned to the file, Kyle Magnus, to monitor emails, chats and capture screenshots to help track down the stolen laptop. Clements-Jeffrey asserts the company could have stopped its efforts after obtaining the computer’s IP address.

Initially, the widowed substitute teacher was arrested for having the stolen laptop, but those charges were dropped a week later. according to the story, “Officers Geoffrey Ashworth and Noel Lopez allegedly mocked and humiliated her about the images when they arrived at her residence to arrest her for receiving the stolen goods.”

Subsequent to that, the widowed substitute teacher and her boyfriend sued Absolute for peering in on their nude video chats.

Absolute moved to dismiss the case at the summary judgment stage.  The Court, disagreed stating that a jury could reasonably find that Absolute violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act.  Here is the money quote from the decision (via Wired):

Although the Absolute Defendants may have had a noble purpose, to assist the school district in recovering its stolen laptop, a reasonable jury could find they crossed an impermissible boundary when they intercepted the Plaintiffs’ instant messages and webcam communications. A reasonable jury could also find that such conduct would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities to suffer shame and humiliation.

So, what are the lessons here (besides not doing explicit things in front of a used laptop)?

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